A Bewick in my Backyard

By: Christy Esmahan, Travis Audubon Master Birder

It’s nesting time for our local birds here in Austin and there’s a Bewick’s Wren working busily in my back yard. Last year he tried making a nest in the Eastern Screech Owl house in my front yard before its larger occupant returned. Every day the wren sang mightily and carried beakfuls of twigs into the box. Then one day the pint-sized owl was peering serenely from the hole. Had she found a complimentary lunch?

So, this year I ordered a wren nesting box and my husband hung it. However, it wasn’t wrens who first got interested in it, but rather an adorable Black-crested Titmouse. It flew right up to the hole and stuck its head inside, looking around, and trying to see if it could use the house. Finding the hole too small, it pecked at the edges, but alas, the protective steel plate around the entrance hole deterred that effort.

Meanwhile the Bewick’s Wren occasionally passed through my yard, nibbling on an insect or two in the leaf-litter, but paying no mind to the gorgeous wooden abode we had provided. I wanted to say, “Look up! That box has your name on it.”

For several weeks my husband and I agonized over the box and the clue-less wren. When would it figure it out? Would it try to build a nest in the owl-box again? This week, we suddenly heard the wren announcing its trilling call loudly, persistently and from much closer. We looked out the kitchen window and saw it perched on the roof of the box. Finally!

These last few days we’ve spent blissfully watching as it muscles up twigs, sometimes hop-flying to nearby branches before making a last push for the tiny hole. Often the twigs are too large to fit through the hole as he holds them cross-wise in his beak and we agonize as he shoves with all his might. “Turn, your head,” I want to advise, but as a mother of four, I’ve learned that the youth need to make their own mistakes. The wren leaves with his beak still full and tries again later. Eventually, he finds more pliable materials like pieces of soft ashe juniper bark and dried grasses that he can shove in. And all the while he sings loudly for a mate to come see this master nest he is building.

According to Birds of North America (BNA), Bewick’s Wrens are on the decline, having virtually disappeared east of the Mississippi, and decreasing in the western part of their range. Nowadays they are mostly found in the Edwards Plateau of central Texas, southeastern Arizona and the southern coastal areas of California. Who’s to blame? “[…] competition from the nest-destroying House Wren whose range has accompanied the quiet exit of Bewick’s Wren,” says the BNA article.

But as I sit sipping my morning tea, I see an optimistic little Bewick’s Wren diligently belting out his song as he ferries in more twigs. Hopefully one day soon we’ll be grandparents!

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